Mysticism–in Reply to a Question

If memory serves me, back on the old blog I posted something about Gravitas as to what we valued, or what distinguished us, or something like that. Among the points was something about being favorable toward mysticism. Not all were so (perhaps they understand better now, perhaps not).

I’m more than favorable, I’m enthusiastic. But mysticism is like romanticism: some take the worst possible definition of the term and hate it. The truth is some hate the idea of mysticism because they have been involved in vague, impulsive and to be quite honest silly notions of spirituality and as a result, and perhaps even reacting against themselves, make what they did the object for their scorn.

Some, of course, never have, but still prefer a spirituality of rationalism, or at least a spirituality that emphasizes more rationalism than, well, sweet desire, let us say. Some I think are leery of anything that exceeds too much the boundaries of their limits (of control, of experience, of their meager hearts–harsh, but let us be candid: the notion is a timid notion).

I don’t mind being derided as a mystic, especially by people who haven’t read too much of mysticism. I don’t get too worked up if they say The Cloud of Unknowing leads to pantheism–somewhere in the secondary literature, no doubt, such a view can be substantiated. Maybe they scanned through scowling and found a hideous sentence to fling at their opponents. Let me wear it as a badge of honor.

My introduction to mysticism was Tozer, in the introduction to The Christian Book of Mystical Verse. You can get some of the sense of it, if you can’t read poetry, in The Knowledge of the Holy. It is a great book, and I doubt most Christian leaders today are capable of writing anything like it. For one, they’d have to be familiar with the primary literature, the deep wells out of which Tozer draws, and they simply are not (what an adventure awaits the one who travels down the well each footnote in that book opens up). We live in an age where much reading is presentist reading: today’s problems (so different from yesterday’s) with a new solution (that people who did not have cell phones could never have come up with), insights from Evangelicals who are constitutionally unable to offer anything remotely resembling an insight, how to live meaningfully without ever reading poetry, that sort of book. We talk about history, but what do we read? Primary sources or secondary literature? I don’t think I need to make all that much of an argument for that point. Tozer was no historian, but he knew what Christians of all the ages had thought and felt. How many people do?

And he regularly read poetry. Mysticism shares the fascination of the greatest poetry with the darkness that broods over us, that runs below the depths that we can see. It is a taste for the greatest poet’s vision, only more, further. Mysticism is in search of ultimate reality, and it knows that the aim of human sanctification is union with God–union with God! It wants to have what is most difficult for those who long in paradoxes of inexpressibility: complete resignation in the will of God.

God is somewhere beyond the darkness the greatest poet only glimpses, God is in the depths of all things created; all wisdom and knowledge and true learning lead to that endless fascination which is the dazzling city at the very bottom of the sea, the rich vein only found through the most arduous, deepest mineshaft, the light-year-distant heart of the nebula toward which all interstellar voyages are aimed, the undiscovered country.

I don’t know if there is any mystic not of the romantic temperament. Is mysticism the search for beauty rather than the search for the sublime? Can it be a tame thing? I wonder sometimes. Does it really search the intersection of the beautiful with the sublime?


2 thoughts on “Mysticism–in Reply to a Question

  1. Aha.

    I think this is the vortex to which I’ve been (at least somewhat consciously) drawn since finding poetry, NRW, Rossetti, Alter, Tozer, yourself . . .

    But I think its been with me longer than that, at least in inclination, in my love for the old hymns, my sense that they are cut from altogether different cloth than the praise and worship stuff, and my desire for a meaning in things.

    This helps.

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